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Last Updated: Monday, 12 January, 2004, 09:51 GMT
Q&A: Keeping safe on the net
Parents can do much to make the web a safe place for youngsters.

What's the first thing I should do?

You can't just ask children to stay offline. Youngsters are among the biggest users of the internet and they love to chat online.

Instead of trying to stop them using the internet, talk to your children about what they are doing online. Encourage children to always tell a parent, teacher or guardian when they are surfing the internet.

Experts recommend that a computer used by children should be kept downstairs and in sight of parents and guardians. A tactic likely to encourage children to talk about what they are doing and to ask for help with anything they find troubling.

It might be worth using parental control software that filter website addresses. However, many filters are unsophisticated and block useful sites.

What about e-mails and attachments?

Be wary of opening attachments to e-mails unless they come from someone you already know and trust. The e-mail could contain a virus that could destroy all the information and software on your computer.

Never reveal name, address, phone number or password
Never reply to nasty or suggestive messages
Never open e-mail attachments unless they come from someone you trust
Never meet anyone unless an adult goes with you
Many parents are increasingly concerned about unsuitable messages ending up in children's mailboxes. This is because porn has become one of the most common forms of spam - unwanted, unsolicited commercial e-mail sent in its millions.

A way around this is to set up two e-mail addresses for your child. One of them would be a private e-mail address to give to friends. The other would be a public address to use when a child goes surfing or uses to sign on for e-mails and the like. This is where the spam is likely to end up, so the e-mails should be filtered by a parent who can delete unsuitable messages.

There is no point asking a spammer to remove you from their e-mail list. This will just confirm that yours is a genuine and active e-mail address and mean you get more spam.

Children should never respond to nasty or suggestive e-mails. If they receive one of these, they should tell a parent or carer about it.

Are chat rooms dangerous places for children?

Chat rooms are a great way for children to meet and talk to other children all over the world. But a child should always be very careful in chat rooms. They should always check with a parent that it is ok to be in a chat room.

Always check with a parent before using a chat room
Always be very careful in chat rooms
Always be yourself and not pretend to be anyone else
Always stay away from sites for people over 18 only
Even if a chat room says it is only for children, there is no way at the moment to tell if everyone there really is a child. It might be an adult or an older child trying to trick young net users.

Your child should not not pretend to be anyone or anything they are not. If a child in a chat room starts to feel uncomfortable about what someone is saying, they should get out of there and tell an adult.

If a child gets an e-mail telling them not to tell their parents about it, they should not reply, Instead they should tell an adult straight away.

If children use instant messaging, encourage them to set up closed "buddy lists" for them and their friends that should help limit who can contact them.

What kind of information can a child give out?

Children should never tell anyone they meet online their home address, telephone number or school's name, unless they have specific permission from a parent or teacher.

They should never send anyone their picture, credit card or bank details, without first checking with their parent or carer. And of course, a child should keep any passwords completely secret, not even telling their best friend.

Children should not use the names of family or pets as passwords because people can easily guess them. Use a mix of letters and numbers instead.

What about meeting webpals in person?

Do not let your child meet in person anyone they have met over the internet without your permission. Even then, make sure they go with an adult and meet in a public place.

People contacted online are not always who they seem, even people who become pen friends.


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